Jonah 1:1-16 – Jonah’s Call

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Jonah 1:1

  1. Jonah, son of Amittai, was a prophet (contemporary with the prophet Amos) in the northern kingdom of Israel (2 Kings 14:25) during the reign of Jeroboam II (793-753 BC).
    1. The name “Jonah” means “dove” and his name fits well with his mission, as God sends Jonah as a “dove of peace” to the warring Assyrians in Nineveh in order to try to prevent the judgment God will soon execute if the people there do not repent.
    1. The name “Amittaj” means “truth” or “truth teller” and is a very fitting name for a prophet of judgment.
  2. The expression “the word of the Lord came to Jonah” shows us that God called Jonah to be a “prophet”. The English word “prophet” is “nabi” in Hebrew and originally meant a “spokesman” or a “mouthpiece”.
    1. There was no one in Nineveh who could hear God’s voice, so Jonah is sent to Nineveh to speak for God there.
    1. An example of an early “nabi” is Aaron, who was Moses’ nabi when he pleaded Moses’ case before Pharaoh (Exodus 7:1).
    1. A prophet is often a mediator between God and God’s people. The prophet speaks for God before his people (Jer 26:16-18) and can also speak for the people before God (Amos 7:2-3).
    1. According to Paul, hearing God’s voice and communicating God’s word is a gift from God that we should strive for because it builds up the church (1 Corinthians 14:1-5).
  3. During Jonah’s time as a prophet in Israel, the land flourished, grew in size and was very rich. Even though King Jeroboam II did what was “evil in the sight of the Lord”, Jonah was commissioned to prophesy that Jeroboam would win back “the territory of Israel from the place where the road goes to Hamath to the Sea of Hedge” and that God would protect Israel and prosper them because He had promised that Israel’s name would not be “blotted out of the earth”. Jeroboam reconquered large tracts of land and also took Damascus for Israel (2 Kings 14:23-29).
    1. At the same time, we can see that the contemporary prophet Amos condemned Israel’s social injustices due to the wealth of the land, and not only that; the prophet Hosea also condemned Israel’s “spiritual unfaithfulness” and idolatry.
      1. So we see that the Lord blessed Israel even though they did not love God or their fellow man very much. So success does not always depend on everything being right. God does not automatically bless as soon as we become pure or act rightly. In other words, we cannot sit back and think that everything is right just because we experience success and growth.
    1. However, there is nothing in the Bible to suggest that Jonah made any criticism of King Jeroboam II; on the contrary, he seems to believe strongly in the success of his country and not at all inclined to help other countries. Perhaps that is why he is commissioned to prophesy over Nineveh.

Jonah 1:2

  1. Nineveh is a very old city that was made the capital of Assyria by the Assyrian king Sanherib around 700 BC.
  2. Although many in Israel certainly knew that God is the God of the whole world, he was still strongly connected to Israel because of the promises made to the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The other nations, including the Assyrians, had their own gods, and there was no strong missionary zeal among the Israelites to spread faith in God to other lands. On the contrary, there is rather a reluctance in at least Jonah.
    1. Throughout the Bible, it is very clear that although God has a special covenant with the nation of Israel, God is the God of all nations and cares for the whole world. So it shouldn’t surprise Jonah that God wants to lead the Assyrians in the right direction, even though Nineveh is as far as 80 miles from Jonah’s hometown, Gath-Hefer, as far as Timrå and Kalmar.
    1. In the prophet Amos, contemporary with Jonah, we read: “Are you not in my sight like the Nubians, O children of Israel? says the Lord. Did I not bring up Israel out of the land of Egypt, the Philistines from Caphtor, and the Aramaeans from Kir?” (Am 9:7)
    1. This must have been very provocative for Jonah, who was commissioned to prophesy a blessing over Israel. So now he must realize that God cares about Nineveh too.
  3. What caused God’s call to proclaim to the Assyrians in Nineveh was, according to God, that “their wickedness has come up before my face”. Aside from “violence,” Jonah does not mention exactly what kind of evil the Assyrians were engaged in, but in the book of the prophet Nahum we find that it involved evil plots against the Lord (Nah 1:11), plunder (Nah 3:1), prostitution and sorcery (Nah 3:4), and commercial exploitation (Nah 3:16).
    1. Sometimes we can get the idea that God is only the God of Christians, but in fact he is the God of the whole world. God is even God to those who have not yet bowed to him, God sees them too.
    1. Here we also see that if a nation is sufficiently wicked and violent, God will eventually respond.
    1. Jonah’s mission is to tell the Assyrians that God will judge them for their wickedness if they do not repent.
    1. God rarely gives a judgment in the Old Testament that is directly enforced. There is almost always time and opportunity for repentance when God gives a judgment.

Jonah 1:3

  1. The port city of Jafo, today’s Jaffa just outside Tel Aviv, did not belong to Israel in Jonah’s time. The reason Jonah avoids an Israeli port city is because he wants to get as far away from the God of Israel as possible.
  2. Why does Jonah flee as soon as he receives the call?
    1. First of all, the Assyrian capital Nineveh was a very dangerous place for Jonah. To go there and preach God’s judgment and urge them to repent is like a Jew going to Berlin during World War II and preaching God’s judgment if they don’t repent.
    1. Secondly, Jonah did not want the Assyrians to repent because then they would not receive God’s punishment. Jonah had a hard time accepting that God is not only the God of Israel but the God of the whole world.
  3. Why did Jonah flee to Tarshish?
    1. Nineveh was located 80 miles east of Israel (present-day Iraq) and Tarshish 400 miles west of Israel (present-day Spain). Nineveh was the easternmost city in the Levantine trade area, while Tarshish was the westernmost. In other words, with the ships of the day, Tarshish was as far away from both Israel and Nineveh as possible.
      1. Jonah tries to escape from Israel, the place where God is in control, and Nineveh, the place where God is calling him. Soon, however, Jonah comes to realise that God is in control even beyond the borders of Israel.
  4. God has never stopped calling different people to small and large missions. Perhaps you have received a call from God to do something special? Maybe you have tried your hardest to get away from what God has called you to do? Maybe you recognize that your escape just messed things up and caused problems? If so, it’s time for you to listen to God and do what he’s calling you to do.

Jonah 1:4

  1. It was God Himself who sent a violent storm that almost destroyed the ship. Sometimes it’s easy to think of God as a kind Santa Claus who gives us things when we ask for them, but in the book of Jonah we see that God is also a judgmental God who doesn’t hesitate to start a violent storm in our lives if we don’t do what he says.
  2. God can both calm the storms in our lives and cause the storms in our lives. God is a person, and there is no automatic way to make this happen. If we want to know why our lives are the way they are, we need to seek God and ask him to show us.
  3. Jonah’s disobedience was leading to other people’s misery as well.

Jonah 1:5

  1. Tarsus was a Phoenician colony and port city and it is very likely that these sailors were Phoenicians, in other words experienced and skilled seamen. If these sailors were frightened, it was indeed a serious storm.
  2. The vast majority of people become religious when they find themselves in some kind of life crisis or violent storm that they cannot get out of on their own. The problem is that these sailors had not been told about the God of Israel and therefore cried out in vain, at least until Jonah told them about the cause of the storm.
    1. That’s why it’s so important to spread God’s word as much as possible, because even if they’re not interested in becoming a Christian right now, hopefully they’ll turn to God if they find themselves in a life crisis.
    1. This verse is a reminder to us not to postpone our spiritual development indefinitely. We never know when we need God most, and so we do well to try to know him here and now.
  3. How could Jonah sleep so deeply in the midst of a violent storm that frightened experienced sailors? Probably because the storm inside him was much worse than the storm outside.
  4. It is ironic that a pagan captain has to wake a sleeping man of God and call him to prayer! This verse is a clear call to us Christians, who have come to know God, not to sleep when there are plenty of people around who are crying out to God without knowing who he is.
    1. There are people everywhere who long for God, but if none of us who have come to know God tells them about him, they will have a very hard time finding him.
  5. How do you know if you are a “sleeping Christian” in need of “revival”?
    1. Jonah slept in a place where he thought no one would disturb him. Perhaps you avoid other Christians in the hope that no one will disturb your spiritual sleep?
    1. Jonah slept while the others worked. Perhaps you are staying away from all the work that other Christians do in church?
    1. Jonah slept while the others prayed. Maybe it’s been a long time since you went to a prayer meeting?
    1. Jonah had no idea of the violent storm raging outside. Perhaps your spiritual sleep has caused you to lose sight of all the distress around you?

Jonah 1:7-8

  1. For some reason, these experienced sailors seem to have understood that this was no ordinary storm, so they cast lots, a common method in the Middle East of the time, to find out God’s will.
  2. God often speaks to us in a language we can understand. It is not uncommon, for example, for God to give us pictures with such a simple and ordinary message that we do not believe that it is really from God.

Jonah 1:9

  1. Although Jonah was on the run from God, he becomes a blessing to the people around him. God can use even a disobedient prophet to spread the message about himself.
  2. Jonah’s confession sounds very good! But his life doesn’t exactly match his words. It is important for every Christian to do the best he can to live up to the faith he professes. At least one should not do just the opposite.

Jonah 1:10

  1. Even pagan sailors understand that if God tells someone to “go and preach”, they should obey!
  2. In the same way, we Christians should think about trying to spread the gospel of Jesus to the people around us. It would be unfortunate if, after many years, our friends and acquaintances heard the gospel from someone else and then asked us why we didn’t tell them the good news?

Jonah 1:11-12

  1. Why did Jonah want the sailors to throw him overboard? Perhaps because he was distressed and wanted to kill himself.
  2. Knowing God’s calling but struggling against it is very difficult and there is a great risk of feeling very unwell.

Jonah 1:13-16

  1. Now that the sailors have realised that Jonah’s God is powerful, they really don’t want to throw Jonah into the sea and risk making God even more angry, so they row and fight like never before. But in the end they see no other way out and ask the God of Israel not to be angry.
  2. There are a lot of similarities between Jonah and Jesus. For example, both Jesus and Jonah were gone for three days and three nights (Matthew 12:40). Here we also see a similarity between the sailors and Pontius Pilate, who both send a man of God to his death while not wanting innocent blood on their hands (Matt 27:24).
  3. After the sailors see that God has calmed the storm, they are seized with a great fear of the Lord. It seems that this event led to the salvation of the sailors.
    1. Normally, we humans are very prone to promise God anything before he has helped us, as long as he answers our prayer, but these sailors made promises after God had helped them.
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